Nine years after homicide, family longs for justice
Police, relatives of Maria Hsiao urge witnesses to step forward about 2001 shooting at Palo Alto nightclub
Andrea Hsiao still thinks of her sister every day, even though it's been nine years since Maria was shot and killed outside the Q Café nightclub in downtown Palo Alto.
Hsiao remembers how she and Maria were so crazy for the Backstreet Boys, they once stood in line all night to buy tickets to the boy band's concert.
She thinks about the long talks she and her younger sister used to have. She thinks about how, now that she is a mother, her little girls would have adored their Auntie "Ria."
And she wonders: When will someone finally step forward with the information that's needed to solve the mystery of who killed Maria?
For Palo Alto Police Capt. Bob Beacom, coordinator of the department's investigative-services division, the case is very much alive. Last week, on the ninth anniversary of Maria's death, the department held a press conference and called for any witnesses to the shooting to contact the police and help them find justice for Maria, who was a 21-year-old art student out for a night of fun.
Police Chief Dennis Burns said he hoped the passage of time, along with a $100,000 reward and the police department's new anonymous-tip system, would prompt a witness to step forward after years of silence.
"People change and relationships change," Burns said. "It's possible that the person with information about Maria's killer may be more inclined to come forward now because they have matured or because their relationship with the suspect has changed."
Sometimes, Beacom said Wednesday, time helps people to listen to their consciences.
"We're confident someone knows what happened," he said. Perhaps now that person will feel it is the right time to come forward and give the information only he or she knows.
Even though about 20 people were outside the Alma Street nightclub when the 12:20 a.m. shooting occurred, no one reported seeing the shot fired, police said. The club has since closed down.
But the pain goes on for Hsiao and her close-knit family. Maria, described as a sweet and thoughtful young woman, had three brothers and a sister in addition to her parents. She was active in her church.
The weekend before last, the Hsiaos held a time of remembrance at Maria's Oakland gravesite, just as they have done every year.
For the past week, they have been volunteering in Bay Area schools through the charity they launched in honor of Maria, the Ria Foundation ("Ria" was her nickname).
They and other volunteers brought T-shirts, paint and supplies to 900 second- and third-graders in cities ranging from San Jose to Oakland to Martinez. After being shown how to paint and mix colors, the students depicted their hopes and dreams on the T-shirts. For some disadvantaged kids, it was a rare chance to express themselves through art, Hsiao said.
"Seeing the wonder and joy of each one of these children renews our faith in people and our future. Maria would be so proud," she said.
Since the nonprofit's founding in 2002, nearly 7,000 school kids have received art lessons.
Maria's mother also has tried to channel her broken-heartedness into service to others. She works at the cemetery where Maria is buried and helps the families of other violent-crime victims to plan their loved one's funerals.
For all the good work they are doing, Hsiao said, the family's emotional wounds are still fresh. Not knowing what happened nine years ago has prevented them from healing normally.
"It's a long, drawn-out grieving process," she said.
Even the family's happy moments — weddings, births, graduations — are bittersweet, as they think of how each of the milestones would have been for Maria, she said.
That's why Hsiao continues to seek closure and why she wants those with information about the homicide to know that the $100,000 reward could be theirs, following the shooter's arrest and conviction.
"As long as I live, I will be the voice for my sister because her voice and life were taken from her," Hsiao said. "She would have wanted justice, and I will never give up the search for it for her."
Anyone with information, however small, about the night of June 10, 2001, can text or e-mail anonymous tips to firstname.lastname@example.org. The TipNow service encrypts the sender's name, phone number and other contact information to make sure the person's identity remains anonymous.
Witnesses can also contact Detective Aaron Sunseri at 650-329-2569.
Managing Editor Jocelyn Dong can be e-mailed at email@example.com. Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.